Chris Bielby MBE, chair of the Electrical Safety Roundtable, examines the progress being made on monitoring and enforcing Part P of the Building Regulations, and asks what more could be done
When the Office of the deputy prime minister introduced Part P of the Building Regulations back in 2005, it was amid concerns the risks posed by unsafe electrical installations were increasing. The past fourteen years have seen huge changes to the landscape of the electrical industry, with Competent Person Scheme Operators helping to maintain high standards by regularly assessing their members onsite to ensure continued competence. However, while the introduction of Part P has helped to raise standards in general, more must be done to punish those who continue to carry out non-compliant, potentially dangerous electrical work. It is this fight which I have been heavily involved in over the past few years.
I agreed to become chair of the Electrical Safety Roundtable (ESR) at its inception in 2012 because I was concerned Part P of the Building Regulations hadn’t been quite the success it should have been. Consumers seemed generally unaware of the value of using competent registered electricians and the severity of the dangers that could arise from poor-quality installations. In addition, the electrical safety information available on the majority of consumer facing websites was inconsistent at best, and confusing at worst. Research done by the ESR also found that Local Authorities (LAs) were not actively enforcing these regulations as stringently as they could. A Freedom of Information request sent to all LAs in England found that almost three-quarters of authorities had taken no action against Part P non-compliance between 2011 and 2013. Worryingly, this does not seem to be because Part P non-compliance is not being seen: nine LAs had identified breaches of Part P but taken no action, and only one successful prosecution was brought against an individual carrying out substandard electrical work by an authority during the survey period. While the vast majority of electricians do comply with the regulations, it is clear that deterrents are needed to convince the rogue minority to fall into line – or find a more suitable career.
Local Authorities are in an unenviable position when it comes to enforcing these regulations. Going through the courts can be a drain on time and resources, and LAs may not have the required expertise to put a compelling case together. This is why I was so happy to see that NAPIT played such a crucial role in the latest prosecution for Part P non-compliance by completing a full Electrical Compliance Inspection. I’m sure registered, competent electrical installers are frustrated that more action isn’t taken when non-compliant work is seen, so I hope this case signals the start of a change in mindset. South Gloucestershire Council’s commitment to prosecutions should be replicated across the country to bring those who don’t comply with the Building Regulations to justice.
Over the next few years, we are likely to see changes to Part P, as the shadow of the Grenfell Tower disaster looms over each part of the Building Regulations. The recommendations of Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety are likely to lead to changes to each part of the regulations; the final report did express a wish that “Part P is reviewed and updated as necessary”. Dame Judith’s suggestions are largely designed to be applied to higher risk residential buildings, but I see this as the ideal time to make full-scale improvements to Part P, with all new electrical installation work in the home to be made notifiable and carried out by an identifiable, competent individual employed by a registered business. This would reduce the confusion that currently exists for homeowners over which work is notifiable, especially regarding the difference between England and Wales in terms of notifiable work. This would also raise standards in the installer community by ensuring that each individual operative could prove their ongoing competence. Most importantly, it would make electrical installations safer, and save lives.
It is a great shame that it has taken tragedies such as Grenfell to bring about the desire for change in the building industry, but there is no doubt that greater enforcement is on the horizon. The Scottish Government have consulted this summer about how to strengthen their enforcement regime relating to Building Standards, while the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in England have shown that they are serious about electrical safety by announcing that electrical checks will be made mandatory in privately rented properties. The move towards greater enforcement will hopefully mean that, over a decade since its inception, Part P of the Building Regulations will be fully respected by the industry and understood by consumers. Part P has already saved lives; it is time to help it to protect the safety of consumers even more effectively.
For more information on the recent prosecution for Part P non-compliance which NAPIT were involved in, visit http://www.napit.org.uk/news/article/Builder-Fined-Following-NAPIT's-Intervention.aspx.
The summary of the ESR’s report into Part P enforcement in England is available at http://www.electricalsafetyroundtable.co.uk/downloads.aspx.